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2008 Battle of Atlantic Expedition

Exploring WWII in the Graveyard of the Atlantic

National Marine Sanctuaries Photo Gallery
Mission info 2007 Nancy Foster Cruise


UPDATE: Watch video of the U-352 (10MB Quicktime) taken during the expedition.

In the warm current of the Gulf Stream just south of Cape Hatteras, off Cape Lookout, lie the remains of the German U-boat, U-352. Although her operational career was not as successful as U-701 and U-85, she was an important part of the Battle of the Atlantic. Today, her remains offer a wonderful opportunity for divers to explore a small piece of America’s part in the Battle of the Atlantic.

u352 boat sketch
Detailed isometric and profile inking of U-352 drawn in 1991 by Jim Christley, a retired submariner and naval artist. These drawings will be helpful in determining the amount of degradation to the site since 1991. Click here for a larger view.

U-352, under the command of Kaptitänleutnant Hellmut Rathke, set out for her first patrol on January 15, 1942 as part of Group Schlei.  Shortly after embarking on the patrol, the mission was recalled. U-352 was next directed to U.S. waters, but she never reached her destination due to being redirected once again, this time to Iceland, the Faroes, and Scotland.  Although U-352 spent several weeks at sea during this mission, she returned to St. Nazaire empty handed and in need of minor repairs.

In April, U-352 finally headed toward U.S. waters. About a month later on May 5, off the coast of Cape Hatteras, she began a game of cat-and-mouse with the Swedish merchant ship, SS Freden. Rathke moved his vessel into attack position twice, each time firing torpedoes from the bow and each time missing the target.  However, the crew aboard the Freden was sure they would be hit and decided to abandon ship.  When the ship stopped to launch the lifeboats, the U-352 passed them without notice and lost contact with their target.  Once the Captain of the Freden realized that his ship was not sinking, he ordered everyone back aboard to resume their course. 

u352 under water
Underwater images of the U-352. (Photo: NOAA)
The following day, Rathke was presented with an opportunity to make up for his prior shortcomings as they came across the Freden once again.  Over the next several hours Rathke got off two torpedoes, both of which missed their target.  For a second time, the crew of the Freden panicked and prematurely took to the lifeboats.  Evidently, during the process of launching the lifeboats, the Freden turned the stern of the ship towards the U-352, so as to present a smaller target.  Rathke mistook the turning as the vessel running off at full speed and gave up chasing the Freden.  The crew of the Freden drifted in their lifeboats all night, sure that their own vessel now laid on the bottom of the Atlantic.  On the morning of May 7, they happened to drift by the completely untouched Freden and once again reboarded the boat and continued on their journey.

On May 9, U-352 began the engagement that would end in its demise. Rathke spotted the Icarus, a 165-foot USCG Cutter on antisubmarine patrol off Cape Lookout.  U-352 closed for an attack and fired a torpedo at Icarus, but the torpedo missed the target and either malfunctioned or hit the sea bottom.  Lieutenant Commander Maurice Jester, captain of the Icarus, responded with five depth charges which damaged theU-352 so severely that Rathke decided to play dead and lay still on the bottom, hoping the cutter would move on. 

However, Jester began dropping more depth charges and eventually forced Rathke to surface. As the crew of U-352 prepared to scuttle the ship, several began emerging from the conning tower preparing to jump overboard.  The Icarus was fearful that the crew would man their deck guns, so they put down machine gun fire. 

u352 under water
Underwater images of the U-352. (Photo: NOAA)
Because the U-352 could not man their deck gun and could not evade the Icarus it was forced to scuttle in an attempt to keep valuable intelligence from falling into American hands. As U-352 sank, much of the crew was able to escape.  Icarus left the scene for about an hour to wait for instructions on how to proceed.  They then returned to the site and collected 33 survivors (one later died from machine guns wounds aboard the Icarus), the first German submariners captured by American forces in the war.  The men were later interrogated and remained in various prisoner of war camps for the duration of the war, often intermingling with the survivors from U-701.

U.S. Navy divers conducted salvage attempts just days after U-352 sank, but they did not recover anything of military importance.  After the departure of the salvage operation and a depth charge attack on the site months later, U-352 was left untouched and undisturbed for decades with the remains of as many as 13 men interred inside.

In 1975, a group of recreational divers discovered her location. She has been consistently visited by divers ever since. U-352 has become one of the most significant economic cultural resources for the recreational diving industry in North Carolina. NOAA’s intent in this expedition is to promote awareness and protection, to identify management protocol that will ensure continued access for the diving community while mitigating degradation to the site, and to collect archaeological data that will contribute to the site’s nomination to the National Register of Historic Places.

Click here for the full history and disposition of the U-352.

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